July 8, 2015
“Adventure and ambition go hand in hand at Trinity Wall Street.” – New York Times
Trinity Wall Street is thrilled to announce the launch of “MASS REIMAGININGS,” a major new long-term commissioning project curated by composer Daniel Felsenfeld. Six of today’s most diverse and compelling composers have each been invited to offer their own 21st-century take on the traditional Mass, to be premiered by the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street and new-music orchestra NOVUS NY, under the leadership of Julian Wachner, Trinity’s galvanizing Director of Music and the Arts. The first of these new Masses – a collaboration between Felsenfeld and author Rick Moody – will debut at Trinity’s upcoming Twelfth Night Festival on December 30; those by composers Netsayi, Jonathan Newman, Paola Prestini, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Wachner himself will follow over the coming seasons. In 2018, all six works will be presented within the context of Trinity’s multi-faceted celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, including the late composer’s own reimagined trope on the Catholic Mass. “This marks a major step forward in our dedication to the creation of new musical work,” Wachner noted. “Although Trinity has a long history of commissioning and premiering new music, we have never undertaken such an ambitious project before, particularly one that is intended to enrich and impact the repertory in such a significant manner.”
Fueled by Trinity’s planned 2018 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s epic theater work “MASS” and drawing inspiration from “Passion 2000,” by which German conductor Helmuth Rilling commissioned new passion settings from a quartet of composers representing the four corners of the globe, “MASS REIMAGININGS” features composers from a wide variety of musical backgrounds, ranging from Italian-American composer Paola Prestini to Zimbabwean singer-songwriter Netsayi. Each new Mass will intersperse the five invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy – the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei – with newly commissioned text from a contemporary writer of the composer’s choosing. The resulting works will be effective for concert and liturgical use in a variety of contexts, further expanding the potential universality of these ancient and ageless texts by contextualizing them within current intellectual struggles on the issues of economic equality, ecology, gender, race and sexuality; and 21st century developments in multiculturalism, ecumenism, and tolerance among the world’s systems of spirituality and faith.
The six commissioned composers: Snider, Netsayi, Newman, Prestini, Felsenfeld & Wachner
Winner of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, Sarah Kirkland Snider is best-known for her song cycle Penelope; already performed live more than 40 times in the U.S. and Europe, this was also, on record, named “No. 1 Classical Album of 2010” by Time Out New York. Drawing on a variety of influences to foreground nuanced and immersive storytelling, her music can be found on the 2014 Grammy Award-winning album Roomful of Teeth, and has been heard at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM, MoMA, and the Aspen Music Festival. For her forthcoming Mass, Snider’s librettist is Nathaniel Bellows, author of the novel On This Day, the poetry collection Why Speak? and numerous short stories and poems. Snider comments:
“I’ve long been fascinated by sacred music – its transcendent aspirations, and its ethereal and dramatic settings. I will relish the opportunity to explore secular notions of spirituality in one of the most revered forms of liturgical music, the Roman Mass. Our Mass will be an elegy for endangered animals, a Requiem for the not-yet-gone. We believe there is a wisdom to animals that extends far beyond what we as humans can comprehend. The idea would be to observe, attempt to understand, and honor these nearly departed species while striving to show the resonance of their otherworldly knowledge and the precarious nature of their place here on Earth. We feel that exploring these concepts in a framework of reverence and celebration, with a plea for mercy and forgiveness, could be very powerful and beautiful.”
When singer-songwriter Netsayi brought her Afro-pop band, Black Pressure, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, their performance struck the New York Times as “a succinct definition of just what song is: a personal utterance with global reach and universal impact.” Her distinctive sound combines jazzy vocals with grooves inspired by mbira, the traditional thumb-piano music of her native Zimbabwe. Now resident in London, Netsayi has made numerous live appearances on BBC radio, and has performed at the London Jazz Festival, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Barbican Centre, besides supporting Ladysmith Black Mambazo on an extensive UK tour. Her rapturously received U.S. appearances include shows on NPR and with 21c Liederabend at BAM. Her upcoming Mass is scheduled to premiere on January 21 at the 2016 Trinity Institute theological conference titled “Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice.” Netsayi says:
“This is a dream job and probably one of most ambitious compositions I’ve ever undertaken – it’s simultaneously inspiring and terrifying! I hope to reimagine traditional southern African choral conventions, ubiquitous where I come from but probably unfamiliar to most New Yorkers. The challenge would be to create something reverential, specific and unique, but of universal beauty.”
The holder of a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Jonathan Newman composes music rich with rhythmic drive and intricate sophistication, creating broadly colored musical works that incorporate styles of pop, blues, jazz, folk, and funk into otherwise classical models. His works include Moon by Night, 2003 winner of the NBA/Merrill Jones Composition Award, and have been recorded on Avian, BCM, Brain Music, Cantaloupe, Cedille, Klavier, Mark Custom, Naxos, Potenza, and Summit Records. For his Mass, which will premiere in 2017, Newman is joining forces with American poet and writer Victoria Chang, whose third poetry collection, The Boss, won both a PEN Center USA literary award and a California Book Award. He states:
“I am thrilled with this opportunity to make an exciting collaborative work; a Mass of contemporary meaning which weaves the roots of sacred liturgy with the struggles of modern faith, through the vibrant and colorful language of the marvelous poet Victoria Chang, and the superb musicianship of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY.”
Named one of the “top 100 composers in the world under 40” (NPR), Paola Prestini has been commissioned and performed by Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, and Kronos Quartet. She previously collaborated with Wachner on her multimedia opera Oceanic Verses; he led its world and New York premieres, before recording it with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street for VIA Records, the label she founded last fall. Prestini’s work is interdisciplinary, incorporating powerful visual and dramatic components. Indeed, for her Mass she not only collaborated with Brenda Shaughnessy, winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, but also with visual artist Anne Patterson. Prestini explains:
“My mass weaves loosely around female experience as a spiritual and corporeal heart, a crux: one of passion and suffering and great love and connection. Visually, 20 miles of ribbon will interact with the space, carrying prayers, dreams, and wishes of people skyward.”
The music of Daniel Felsenfeld is, as his fellow composer Mark Adamo put it, “intense, winningly eccentric … [and] sounds like now.” Felsenfeld has collaborated with musicians from the American Contemporary Music Ensemble to Jay-Z and the Roots, and his works have been heard at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM, and the Kennedy Center, many also being commercially available on the Sony, Def Jam, Black Box, and Naxos labels. For his upcoming Mass, which will receive its first performance in Trinity’s Twelfth Night Festival this winter, he reunited with American novelist and short story writer Rick Moody, with whom he previously collaborated on his song cycle A Genuine Willingness to Help. Named one of “20 writers for the 21st century” by the New Yorker, Moody is best known for his hit novel The Ice Storm, which was made into a feature film of the same name. Felsenfeld comments:
“MASS REIMAGININGS is important because it puts contemporary composers and writers in an historical context. And while it is not a new idea – Bernstein and Britten both wrote fantastic masses that also serve as commentaries on the form – it continues to be relevant. But more, when Julian Wachner and I cooked up the notion, it just seemed like a great idea to have big pieces from these composers, because what we have here is a collection of very individual voices and we w
anted to hear what they’d put forth. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you are a composer you cannot avoid the Mass. Instead, we should embrace it, liturgically and musically, as a piece of ritual and a piece of music theatre.”
Recently named one of “10 Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014” (WQXR), Julian Wachner’s music has been widely acclaimed and described as “deftly orchestrated … with winning touches for percussion … impassioned work … Mahler-like muscularity and jazzy Bernstein … shades of minimalism” by the Washington Post, and “at turns stentorian and lyrical, but always direct, and splendidly wrought” by the Montreal Gazette; characterized as “jazzy, energetic, and ingenious … powerfully, even violently rhythmic … mysterious … hypnotic” by the Boston Globe; and noted for having “an imaginative flair for allusive text setting … silken complexities … close harmonies” by the New York Times. Regarding MASS REIMAGININGS, Wachner notes:
“This project has been in the planning stages for several years now, and it has been an inspirational process collaborating with curator Daniel Felsenfeld who has helped focus the project in such an exciting way. Working within the shadow of Bernstein’s monumental experiment on the struggles of faith within a modern and so-called advanced society is both awesome and overwhelming, but a welcome challenge. In addition, I am honored to be a part of this huge undertaking and look forward to leading my colleagues’ new pieces in the coming seasons!”
About Trinity Wall Street
One of the oldest and most vibrant of all Episcopal parishes, Trinity Wall Street is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, where it has created a dynamic home for music; as the New York Times acknowledges, “Trinity’s music is indispensable and unmissable.” Serving as director of Trinity’s Music and the Arts Program – as well as principal conductor of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the period-instrument Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and contemporary-music ensemble-in-residence NOVUS NY – Julian Wachner also oversees all liturgical, professional and community music and arts programming at Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel. The New York Times calls his leadership “inspiring,” while the New Yorker has described Trinity Wall Street as “a mini-Lincoln Center for downtown Manhattan.” The music at Trinity ranges from large-scale oratorios to chamber music, and from intimate a cappella singing to jazz improvisation. Many concerts at Trinity Wall Street are professionally filmed and webcast live at www.trinitywallstreet.org/videos.
To download high-res photos, click here.
# # #
© 21C Media Group, July 2015